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ClassicsOnline Home » ROSSINI: Le Comte Ory
Set in rural France at the time of the Crusades, Le Comte Ory, Rossini’s last comic opera, is based on the story of a real-life villainous Count who attempts the seduction of a Countess as she awaits the return of her brother. The opera is one of Rossini’s funniest, notable for its sequence of madcap situations set to music which is fast-paced, colourful and dramatic. Berlioz considered it to be Rossini’s “absolute masterpiece”.
By David R. Kirk
By Göran Forsling
By Robert J Farr
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Le Comte Ory
Opéra en deux actes
Libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles-Gaspard Delestre-Poirson
Count Ory - Huw Rhys-Evans (tenor)
Raimbaud, the Count's friend - Luca Salsi (baritone)
The Count's Tutor - Wojtek Gierlach (bass)
Countess de Formoutiers - Linda Gerrard (soprano)
Ragonde, companion to the Countess - Gloria Montanari (mezzo-soprano)
Isolier, page to Count Ory - Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade (mezzo-soprano)
Alice, a young peasant girl - Sofia Soloviy (soprano)
The Countess's Ladies / Count Ory's Knights / Peasants / Crusaders - Czech Philharmonic Choir, Brno (Peter Fiala and Jan Ocetek, Chorus Masters)
Czech Chamber Soloists, Brno (Ivan Matyá š, Artistic Director)
Musical assistance: Marco Bellei and Emmanuel Olivier
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Le Comte Ory: Reality and Appearance in a World of (Self-) Deception and Disguise
When Rossini, now a renowned artist and easily the most famous composer of his time, was considering the composition of Le Comte Ory, he had just established himself in Paris. The years of his success in Italy lay behind him, the contract over several years with Domenico Barbaja, the influential impresario of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, was at an end. Having tried the forms of both opera seria and opera buffa and brought both to a new high point, he sought after new paths.
Paris should offer him a new field of activity. At the time of his arrival in 1823 Rossini was already well known there; many of his operas were performed at the Théâtre Italien, if only in excerpts and adaptations, so that Stendhal, a warm admirer of Rossini, reproached the director Ferdinando Paër with wanting to sabotage Rossini's reputation. After the first negotiations about future projects in Paris, Rossini and his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran, initially, however, travelled to London. A Rossini season was organized at the King's Theatre, but many of the projected operas fell through.
After returning to Paris, on 1 August 1824 Rossini took over the direction of the Théâtre Italien. His contractual duties included, with the rehearsal of his own Italian operas and those of other Italian composers, the composition of new works - for the Théâtre Italien, but also for the Opéra. Rossini concentrated first on the Théâtre Italien, for which he brought out first class performances of his latest Neapolitan operas with carefully chosen singers, but never lost sight of his aim of composing French operas for the Académie Royale de la Musique. In October 1826 he signed a new contract that relieved him of every day duties at the Théâtre Italien and allowed him to concentrate his whole energies on the composition of new works for the Opéra. The position that he had won for himself in Paris was attested through the honorific titles of Premier compositeur du roi and Inspecteur général de chant en France, created specially for him.
Before embarking on the composition of a French opera, however, Rossini set about a thorough study of the fine points of French declamation and fundamentally revised two of his Neapolitan operas. Maometto II was performed in Paris on 9 October 1826 under the title Le siège de Corinthe, and Mosé in Egitto on 26 March 1827 as Moïse et Pharaon.
Characteristic innovations resulted from Rossini's experiment in uniting into a homogeneous whole the Italian style with the traditions of French tragédie lyrique in the search for a form that would give certain dramatic situations the musical expression appropriate to them. The very ornamented Italian vocal line is brought closer to the declamatory French style of delivery while maintaining its melodic expressive power, arias lose their importance in favour of greater scenic and musical unity in which solo voices and chorus interlock as equal proponents of the plot. The enhancement of dramatic expression so achieved, that was to find its high point in the tableaux vivants of later grand opera, is supported and strengthened through Rossini's new instrumental and harmonic treatment of the orchestral passages, which, for example through tone colours, allows new kinds of musical characterization, already suggesting the musical language of the Romantics.
Notwithstanding the criticism by conservative musicians of the new treatment of the orchestra, who castigated particularly the increased use of percussion and brass in several parts as 'din', this style found considerable approval in Paris. The first performance of Le siège de Corinthe in the Salle Peletier, where in 1822 the Opéra had transferred its activities from the Salle Favart, was a great success. The grandiose design of the act-finales won the enthusiasm of the public, as Léon Escudier described it: 'The house sat as if petrified during the performance of this number, that was as new in form as sublime in conception; after the last notes of the chorus all leapt up as one man and expressed their admiration with prolonged shouts of applause.'
After the success of his experiment Rossini set about the composition of a new opera for Paris. Although the death of his mother on 20 February 1827 had affected him deeply, his choice fell again, after a long time, on a comic piece - Le Comte Ory after a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles Gaspard Delestre-Poirson. Here Rossini saw the possibility of making use of some half of the numbers of his earlier opera Il viaggio a Reims, which he had composed in 1825 for the coronation of the Bourbon Charles X. Notwithstanding the success of Il viaggio a Reims he expected no further performances of the opera, since the plot was too closely associated with this historical event and the score for this reason was withheld after a few performances. Scribe and Delestre-Poirson too conceived no completely new text for Rossini, but revised one of those one-act vaudeville pieces of ten years earlier that had been first performed on 16 December 1816 at the Paris Théâtre du Vaudeville.
The adventures of Count Ory are the subject of a medieval ballad from Picardy that first appeared in print in 1785, together with its surviving melodies, in an edition by Pierre-Antoine de la Place. There Count Ory and his men force themselves on the nuns in a convent. The visible success of the Count and his companions is depicted in crudely comic fashion, recalling the style of François Rabelais, at the end of the ballad, through the suggestion that nine months after the visit of the Count there is the blessing of many children for the pious ladies. When Scribe and Delestre-Poirson worked on this material the first time they found it too dangerous and toned it down so that the nuns were converted into ladies whose husbands had been drawn away to the Holy Land as crusaders. They have sworn to avoid all contact with men until their husbands return and have to this end withdrawn from the world and barricaded themselves in the château of the young Countess de Formoutiers. The end too is toned down; the crusaders return before Ory and his companions achieve their purpose. The plot of the vaudeville matches substantially that of the second act of Rossini's opera. The events of the first act are indicated in an aria in the vaudeville, sung by Ragonde, a lady-in-waiting to the Countess, in which she tells of the earlier adventures of the notorious Count Ory: once he dressed up as a hermit and offered young women from a village his advice (and still more active assistance). As usual in vaudeville there were also arias of this early Count Ory sung to music not specially composed for this work, but to melodies from various sources: French folk-songs and melodies from Méhul, Boieldieu and even Mozart's Don Giovanni. On 25 April 1828 the libretto was submitted to the Opéra jury, which accepted it on the condition that insinuations against the Church should be avoided.
The literary and musical jigsaw is reflected in the episodic structure of the two mirrored acts of the opera. Yet in spite of the completely different plot of the two operas Rossini achieves in Le Comte Ory a dramatic unity, since he adapted the numbers taken from Il viaggio a Reims into structurally and emotionally similar situations in the new opera. These emotionally expressive passages, originally in the tradition of Italian arias, through sung recitative and dialogue were so interrelated that new musico-dramatic scenes and ensembles were created. To this end the chorus above all took on an important integrative function, which gives the lyrical atmosphere a novelistic structure; but also the consistent orchestral writing, which virtually eliminated the division between recitative and aria and in its colourful shading created moments of tremendously atmospheric density. Among these may be counted the storm scene in the introduction of the second act or the lovers' terzetto. The orchestral colours result from the use of solo instruments such as flutes, oboes and clarinets as orchestral protagonists and are strengthened by the traditional connotations of instruments - brass, for example, suggests war.
So, for example, the finale of the first act of Le Comte Ory is motivated in a similar way to the Gran pezzo concertato from Il viaggio, from which Rossini developed it: a revelation - namely that the travellers cannot travel to Rheims and respectively that the hermit is none other than Count Ory - comes as a shock to both companies that is mitigated by the reading of a letter. The Countess's husband writes that the coronation will be held in Paris instead of Rheims ; Comtesse Adèle learns from her brother that the crusaders will soon return. This turn of affairs releases the built-up tension for the time being; and the new situation is held and musically amplified in an ensemble, in which contradictory, in part completely opposite corresponding outer and inner feelings are superimposed.
As soon as the situation or the characters diverge too crudely from one another, as, for example, in Lord Sidney 's aria in Il viaggio, which is the basis for the aria of Ory's tutor in the first act, Rossini intervenes more extensively. The cantabile, the psychological sentimentality of which would have made the tutor's complaints ridiculous, he arranged completely anew and varied the orchestral writing in the repetition of the theme of the cabaletta. The comedy is no longer based on the figure, as we recognise from Rossini's Italian opere buffe, for example Il barbiere di Siviglia, but results from the situation in which the characters find themselves. In place of the buffa figures, which are satirised in the Golden Lily Inn in their arias and ensembles, are characters such as the disguised ladykiller Ory, Countess Adèle, the page Isolier, the trusty Raimbaud and the tutor. These, in the plot as in their failures, become comic figures only through their coming together, but not through their own attributes, while they become involved with deception and seduction from similar sentiments in a similar game.
What by day went awry, is tried once again under the protection of night, whereby the boundaries between sport and the serious, appearance and reality, are blurred. The conquest of Adèle, originally going back to Ory's thirst for adventure and power of self-assurance, becomes suddenly clear to him as the true aim of his actions. Rossini's music in the masterly terzetto of the second act reveals this nocturnal deliberate confusion of feelings in which each remains embarrassed in the contemplation of his own feelings and their fulfilment is left open.
Comedy through the medium of tragedy? In spite of the altogether comic-burlesque plot Rossini's work does not allow for certain categorization. Italian melody and vocal artistry come together into a symbiosis with the through-composed scenes and ensembles of tragédie lyrique and the comic situations of opéra comique, which, in spite of the sacrifice of spoken dialogue, the pointed wit of which is included in the vocal numbers, parody real feelings in an 'abstract comedy' (Claudio Abbado) and in their stylistic ambivalence make up the hybrid charm of this musico-dramatic masterpiece.
English version by Keith Anderson
[CD 1 / Track 1] The opera opens with a lively overture. [1/2] The curtain rises on a country landscape. In the background can be seen, to the left, the Château of Formoutiers, with its drawbridge, and to the right woods, through which can be seen the entrance to a hermitage. Count Ory's friend Raimbaud, his knight's clothing hidden under a cloak, urges Alice and the peasants on, as they prepare flowers to greet the hermit. The girls hope to hear about their future husbands. Raimbaud tells them to include in their offerings to the hermit some flagons of good wine. Ragonde appears from the château, seeking to know the reason for such apparent celebration, when the Countess is so unhappy, and her people should be sad with her. The Countess plans that day to visit the hermit to relieve her of her sorrow. The peasant girl Alice thinks this an inspiration from heaven, and Ragonde asks whether the hermit can give them hope. Raimbaud re-assures her that many a widow has found her husband, thanks to him, and Ragonde looks forward to his help.
[1/3] Count Ory, disguised as a hermit, and with a long beard, enters, wishing prosperity on their prayers and the peace of heaven; he promises to accommodate families, and give husbands to girls. Ragonde approaches him, greeted by the Count with some reservation. The villagers mill round the Count, and Ragonde urges them to speak one after the other, not all at once. One man wants his wife to be sensible in his house, Alice wants to marry handsome Julien, and Ragonde wants her husband back. The Count invites the girls to his cell, as the peasants, encouraged by Raimbaud, ask for tenderness, youth, and wealth. Ragonde explains that while their husbands are reaping garlands of victory in Moslem lands, their faithful partners, although in their prime, have sworn to pass their period of widowhood in the Château of Formoutiers; [1/4] the brother of the Countess has followed to the wars, and now she wants to consult the hermit. The Count is secretly delighted, declaring aloud his duty to help her and telling the assembled peasants that he will fulfil their wishes. As they leave, the Count's tutor appears, with the Count's page, Isolier. The tutor objects to the course on which their journey has led him, while Isolier tells him that he has his own reasons; he wants to see his lovely cousin, whose château stands there, but rather than return his affection, she has closed her castle and her heart to love. The tutor sits exhausted; the Prince, Count Ory's father, has told him to find his son, this demon incarnate, who has made off from the court without permission. Isolier, to himself, thinks this was for some new adventure.
[1/5] The tutor finds little benefit in his position, always watching, always in fear, following his charge into whatever difficulties he may meet. [1/6] They are joined by the peasants returning from the hermitage, praising the holy man. When he sees the girls, the tutor suspects that the Count is not far off; he guesses that the hermit might be the Count. Alice tells him that the hermit has been there a week, which fits the period of the Count's absence. [1/7] He asks Alice where he can see the hermit, and she tells him that he will be there in a moment, as the Countess wants to see him, news that is welcome to Isolier. The tutor leaves, to find again the rest of his escort, while Isolier dreams of enlisting the hermit's aid, to overcome the proud virtue of his beloved. He greets the supposed hermit, who now appears, recognising his page. Isolier regards this recognition as a sign of the hermit's wisdom and hands him money. The Count tells Isolier to explain matters to him.
[1/8] Isolier tells him that he is in love with a lady of high estate and thought he had been pleasing to her, but is now spurned; until the return of her brother from the crusades she will let no man enter the castle. He wants to know how to gain admittance and had thought of disguising himself as a pilgrim, a plan that the Count finds very fitting, seeing in Isolier a treacherous rival. Isolier, however, needs the hermit's help; when the Countess comes to consult him, he must tell her that her suffering is caused by her indifference and she must love, to be cured. The Count concurs, noting only that the Countess must love him.
[1/9] The Countess appears, accompanied by Ragonde and the ladies from the château, with peasants and vassals standing behind. The Countess is surprised to see Isolier, who tells her of his intention to consult the hermit, while this last promises counsel and prayers for all those in misfortune. [1/10] The Countess approaches Count Ory. She tells him of her silent suffering, as she hopes only for the tomb, seeking a cure for her malady. Isolier and the people echo her request. The Count promises her relief, if she casts aside her indifference and turns to new love. The Countess has vowed eternal widowhood, but the Count absolves her of her vow, at which she declares that now she can love Isolier again, thanking the hermit for his intervention, to the approval of Isolier and the villagers. [1/11] The Count, however, takes the opportunity to warn the Countess against Isolier, who is the page of the notorious Count Ory. She invites the hermit to enter the château, leading him by the hand, and followed by her ladies. At this moment the Count's tutor appears, with his escort of knights. They see and recognise Raimbaud, and the tutor at once recognises the Count. The women are terrified, the peasants indignant, as Count Ory reveals himself. [1/12] In the act finale the peasants continue to express their anger and the Count his annoyance that his tutor has upset his plans, while the tutor produces a letter from the Count's father announcing the news of the end of the crusade and the imminent return of the crusaders, which delights the women; the letter tells the Count to return at once to the court. All express their feelings at this announcement, but the Count has another trick up his sleeve, while Isolier is duly cautious, watching for the Count's next move.
[2/1] In her chamber the Countess sits, with her ladies, suitably occupied with their sewing and other tasks. They are secure in their seclusion, a protection against evil-doers. The Countess, who is embroidering a scarf, still trembles at the thought of the terrible Count Ory, cruel enemy of innocence, and Ragonde exclaims at the Count's effrontery in impersonating a holy man. As they continue to express their satisfaction in their tranquil seclusion, the sound of a storm is heard, now bursting out with greater force. The women are afraid of the thunder. The Countess remarks on the hail and rain that shake the castle windows, while Ragonde thanks heaven that they are sheltered. The Countess is sad when she thinks of the fate of poor pilgrims, and at this moment voices are heard of people seeking shelter in the castle. [2/2] The Countess tells Ragonde to see who is in need of help, something that she will never deny. The women pray for the cessation of the storm, while the voices of those pleading for shelter, in fact Count Ory and his knights disguised as female pilgrims, are heard. Ragonde returns in some agitation, telling the Countess that the pilgrims are pleading for protection from Count Ory; there are fourteen of them, about forty years in age, and of unattractive appearance, a further sign of the Count's turpitude. Ragonde has ushered them into the parlour, but one of them has sought conversation with the Countess. She ushers the Count in.
[2/3] The Count offers his respects to the Countess, who is happy to have apparently defeated the Count's plans. He takes her hand and presses it to his lips, behaviour that she finds excessive, while re-assuring the pilgrim of her safety, and telling her that Count Ory would only receive contempt if he were to declare his love for her. [2/4] She goes on to express her preference for a sincere lover rather than some over-bold seducer. The Count, however, has hopes of conquering her resistance. [2/5] They are joined by the other supposed pilgrims, as the Count remembers just in time to correct the gender of his introduction of them. The Countess offers them milk and fruit, in thanks for which the Count again kisses the Countess's hand, as she leaves her guests to their modest repast.
[2/6] The men, their knightly accoutrements ill concealed beneath pilgim cloaks, are pleased at their success, while the tutor urges caution. The Count credits Isolier with the plan for abducting the Countess, something, the tutor adds, for which heaven will punish him. They sit to eat, although the tutor regrets the lack of wine. Raimbaud appears, carrying a basket ready to share in the adventure. [2/7] He has searched the château and discovered the owner's wine-cellar, which he has raided, making his escape as he heard someone coming; but no matter, he has brought them his booty, which the knights set about sharing. [2/8] The Count encourages his men to drink. [2/9] The knights celebrate, happy to drink good wine and to indulge in pleasure and love, drinking the health of the lord of the manor, now fighting the Turks and Saracens.
[2/10] Ragonde appears, coming to see if the pilgrims have what they want, causing the knights to hide their bottles, as they put on airs of piety and gratitude. The Countess and Ragonde return, with several women carrying torches, leading the men to assume their air of piety and gratitude once more, to the admiration of the Countess, who bids them retire for the night, and the Count wishes that soon he may be able to express his gratitude. The men take the torches from the women and retire. As the Countess takes off her veil, there is the sound of a visitor at the gate, a page, Ragonde sees, looking down from a window. The Countess finds the presence of a man over-bold, and glares at Isolier, as he enters. He brings news of the return of the crusaders that night, at midnight, intending to surprise the women. Isolier has been told by his master, the Duke, that the women ought to be forewarned, to avoid any sudden shock. Ragonde says that she must tell their guests, fourteen good women escaping from the pursuit of Count Ory. Isolier asks if these people are pilgrims and reveals that they must be Count Ory and his friends, in disguise. The women are distraught, particularly in view of the imminent return of their husbands. They scatter, while Isolier puts out the lamp and dons the veil that the Countess had discarded. He sits on the sofa, signalling to the Countess to stand near him.
[2/11] The Count comes out of his room, ready for love. The Countess, standing by the sofa, is terrified, and Isolier sees the Count confused by the night and silence. Instructed by Isolier, she asks who it is, and the Count announces himself as Sister Colette, unable to sleep and wanting to be with her. He approaches Isolier, whom he mistakes for the Countess, taking his hand and pressing it to his heart. Following Isolier's suggestion, the Countess seems to accept the gesture, and each expresses his feelings, the Countess her fear, the Count his hope of love, and Isolier his fear and hope. The Countess tells Sister Colette to go back to her room, but the Count is resolved to stay, kneeling and declaring his love and embracing Isolier. At this moment a bell sounds and a fanfare of trumpets is heard at the castle gates. The women rush into the room, carrying torches. The Count asks what is happening, and Isolier reveals himself, telling the Count, who threatens him, to fear, rather Isolier's father, who has returned. The tutor, Raimbaud and Count Ory's knights are now seen behind bars, taken prisoner.
[2/12] In the finale the Countess tells them to hear the cries of victory, brought home for love and in glory. The Count and his men withdraw, as Isolier opens a secret door to allow them to escape. At the same moment the Duke and the crusaders returning from Palestine enter, preceded by their squires, carrying banners and arms. Ragonde and the others rush into the arms of their husbands and the Countess into those of her brother. Isolier kisses the hand of the Count of Formoutiers, who embraces him as all sing in praise of the gallant knights, hymning again the glory of victory and the power of love.
The French libretto may be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/660207.htm
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ROSSINI: Le Comte Ory